Nate Ryan

Jimmie Johnson says Hendrick will know his future within 4-6 months

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Jimmie Johnson has heard questions about his NASCAR future throughout this career-worst season, especially since a recent extension of primary sponsor Ally came without a new driver deal.

Soon, he knows the definitive question about how much longer the seven-time champion will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet in Cup will come from the most important person of all: team owner Rick Hendrick.

“I’ve got to start spending some time on it first and foremost, because in the next four to six months, Rick is going to start asking me,” Johnson told NASCAR on NBC’s Jeff Burton in an exclusive sitdown interview that will air Sunday on NBC before the race at Kansas Speedway (coverage will begin at 1 p.m. ET). “I know it’s out there.”

Has the Hendrick Motorsports owner asked about whether Johnson’s future will include racing in Cup beyond the end of his current contract (which expires after the 2020 season)?

“He’s hinted,” said Johnson, who turned 44 last month. “He hasn’t put the true pressure on me yet. I’m very thankful to have Rick as an owner and to be in this position with Ally that, ‘Hey look, we’re going to (sponsor the car). We want you as long as you want to drive.’

“I don’t think many drivers get that opportunity. So I’m so thankful for that. I want to keep racing. I’d like to not race 38 times a year at some point in the next couple of years. I love racing in general. I love our sport. I want to be involved in our sport. I also love other types of racing. I’ve got to balance family, the schedule and then some other goals that I have to complete in other series, too, at the same time and make a decision on all that within four to six months.”

Johnson said on Wednesday night’s NASCAR America Motor Mouths that he remains interested in running IndyCar races on road courses.

He told Burton that he would make the decision with the input of Jeff Gordon (who hand-picked Johnson to drive for Hendrick); longtime friends such as Rick Johnson; his wife, Chandra and their two young daughters, Genevieve, 9, and Lydia, 6.

“My kids, in this next phase of my life, need to have a seat at the table when we have that conversation. All that is going to be very difficult to communicate with a 6-year-old. I don’t know how that’s going to work out, but I want her to be a part of it.

And of course, he also will rely on the advice of Hendrick, whom he has driven for since entering the Cup Series in 2002.

“He’s like a dad, and everybody who has worked for him knows that,” Johnson said. “In some ways, that takes a lot of pressure off. In other ways, it puts pressure on.

“It’s a big decision that I know he doesn’t want to put unneeded pressure on me for, and I feel like through his experiences with drivers retiring, he doesn’t want to push on a driver staying any longer than they feel like they want to, so I think we’re in a good spot, and we’ll just see where it ends up here. Hopefully, I can defer as long as I can and wait maybe nine months, but I don’t think that’s really going to happen.”

Processing the decision probably will be tabled until after the final five races of the 2019 season.

Johnson said he is most focused on ending a 90-race winless drought that dates to June 4, 2017 at Dover International Speedway. He is encouraged that his qualifying and finishing averages are “way up” since the arrival of crew chief Cliff Daniels two months ago.

“I really feel like there aren’t any big obstacles ahead of us,” Johnson said. “Cliff has really brought me back up and has me so excited and so ready for each and every week, that I’m in the best place I’ve been mentally for years. So, absolutely, I am ready for this fight.

“I expect to win this year.”

Johnson, who has 83 career victories, missed the playoffs this year for the first time since NASCAR introduced the postseason structure in 2004. On Motor Mouths, he told Kyle Petty and Marty Snider about the lack of respect he feels he’s received from playoff drivers (video below).

“I used to be feared on the track and there was a certain level of respect that took place,” he said. “That hasn’t been there in a couple of years. I’ve been used up way more (by other drivers), and I’ve let it slide. I’m not where I should be. I get it.

“But when my car is right, I expect that same respect back. And I’m not getting that respect back. And I just have to go fight for it.”

Ryan: Even without plates, Talladega still served up a spectacular show

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Better plate than never?

That was a major question entering this year’s Daytona 500 — and particularly after a pair of lackluster races at Talladega Superspeedway last season.

The 2019 season opener marked the last superspeedway race before horsepower-sapping restrictor plates permanently were removed and replaced by the (similarly shaped) tapered spacers used to choke down engines at the rest of the tracks on the circuit.

The plates defined some of the most indelible moments, both tragic and triumphant, in NASCAR over the past three decades

So what would the post-plate era look like in NASCAR?

The 26 Hours of Talladega provided a definitive answer: A lot like most of everything that transpired on the biggest, fastest tracks in NASCAR for the previous 31 years.

Incessant chaos, crushed sheet metal and costly errors.

In other words, insanity on four wheels (as Marcos Ambrose infamously dubbed it) for 500 miles at a time.

It’s the bedrock upon which superspeedway racing happily has rested for three decades in the interest of entertainment (and, ostensibly, safety in ensuring speeds are manageable enough to prevent cars from sailing over catchfences with disturbing regularity at Daytona and Talladega).

After an off-year in 2018, NASCAR found its sweet spot in Sweet Home Alabama this season.

The most arbitrary form of racing delivered by NASCAR’s premier series again felt as predictably unpredictable as it ever had since the restrictor-plate era began in 1988. There were colossal crashes, double-crossing duplicity and razor-tight finishes.

That was great for fans. It wasn’t necessarily good for Cup drivers.

Of course, it rarely is in the finicky and violent environs of Dega, which was unusually tame last year with only two wrecks of at least a half-dozen cars across 1,013 miles (this year, there were three times as many).

The knock on plate racing in 2018 was the lack of driveability. It’s hard to make passes when cars aren’t stable at 200 mph-plus in the draft.

That put the leader at a huge advantage of being able to tow lines at will and control the front of the pack in a decidedly un-Talladega-esque manner. It was most evident last October when Stewart-Haas Racing led 155 of 188 laps with cars that (stunningly) were built for handling instead of speed.

NASCAR addressed this by raising spoilers to 9 inches with the advent of the spacers. That didn’t do much for handling, but it did punch a bigger hole in the air that caused massive acceleration in the draft and eradicated the “aero bubble” barrier that drivers said made it difficult for trailing cars to pass last year.

So the ability to catch the leader improved … even though handling didn’t nearly as much (look no further than Joey Logano’s in-car camera, which was a furious blur of hands manhandling the steering wheel on every shot).

That was a recipe for the return of the huge wrecks that felt like Dega of yesteryear. Holes in the draft vanished much more quickly, and blocking became futile as drivers scrambled (and often failed) to adapt to the higher closing rates.

If there was a theme, it was that misjudgment on blocking and bumping made the racing much more treacherous – particularly in the rain-shortened July 7 wreckfest at Daytona and the extravaganza Sunday-Monday.

As analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in the NBC broadcast, though the bumpers don’t line up as well with the Gen 6 as in the previous iteration (which spawned the nefarious tandem drafting), the bump-drafting has become even more aggressive in the era of stage points and playoff berths tied to wins.

With bigger runs coming from every direction, an increased susceptibility to being passed and cars just as unstable when in a pack, the lead no longer was the place to be at Talladega.

There were more lead changes Sunday-Monday (46, up from 38 in the April 28 race) than the combined total (40) for both 2018 races. There were 22,214 green-flag passes (59 per lap) at Talladega in 2019, up from 13,294 last year (35 per lap).

A NASCAR without restrictor plates?

Talladega still served up the action for fans — on a silver platter strewn with twisted sheet metal, of course.


The situations weren’t entirely analogous, but NASCAR’s non-call on the final lap Monday was reminiscent of its controversial non-call on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass of Matt Kenseth in the April 6, 2003 race at Talladega. In both instances, officials claimed the spirit of the yellow-line rule wasn’t violated even though the letter clearly was.

Here’s how the rule was presented in the drivers meeting at Talladega: “Drivers, this is your warning. Race above the double-yellow line. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you force someone below the double-yellow line in an effort to stop someone from passing you, you may be black-flagged.”

It’s indisputable that, just like Earnhardt did in passing Kenseth 16 years ago, Ryan Blaney went below the yellow line before taking the lead for good Monday from Ryan Newman. It’s possible that contact with Newman caused Blaney to dip below the boundary, and that seems to be NASCAR’s explanation in why no call was made.

But it also seems like the rule demands that (as it did in 2003) a penalty should have been called on either Blaney or Newman. NASCAR can rule that “in its judgment,” Blaney didn’t intentionally go below the yellow-line to improve his position … but if that’s the case, it means he had to have been forced there, right?

Regardless, NASCAR officials say they are happy with the language of the rule.

Given that it affords them tremendous leeway to turn every yellow-line pass into a ball and strike call, it’s easy to see why.


As many have noted, manufacturer alliances at Daytona and Talladega were invented long before the 21st century. In the 1990s, Chevrolet and Ford drivers regularly worked together – when possible — to try to ensure their makes won the race.

But there were some glaring differences about the tempest that sprung forth last weekend and sparked major disgruntlement among fans and media.

Chevrolet’s decision to call an in-race meeting at Garage Suite 3 in full public view was ill-advised, at best. The references afterward to shilling Corvettes and watching PowerPoints were too clever by a factor of maybe 100, and they also were indicative of why the optics were problematic.

Chevy’s extremely disciplined approach felt too corporate, and it seemed micromanaged to the point of making Michael Scott blush. Chastising drivers for racing three wide instead of single file while still in Stage 1 is hardly palatable to anyone in NASCAR, which has an appealing undercurrent of cutthroat intensity (especially at Daytona and Talladega).

It’s understandable why Jim Campbell demanded his Chevy drivers stay on script. The heat from GM headquarters in Detroit surely was unbearable after Hendrick Motorsports essentially helped Toyota win the Daytona 500. And Ford and Toyota drivers surely were given virtually the same marching orders at Talladega – just much more discreetly.

That might be the right line to choose next time.


The focus on manufacturer alliances wasn’t all bad, though.

It forced some good discussions on awkward topics into the open, and it raised important issues about how much influence manufacturers and teams should have in effectively determining race winners. If younger drivers for midpack teams essentially are told to subjugate themselves for the greater good (or risk being stripped of perks), is that a just sacrifice at a track that might offer their best opportunity at winning all year?

That conversation got shoved to the forefront by the weekend’s manufacturer debate. And it was nice that none of it actually mattered at the conclusion of a race that featured a passel of unheralded underdogs vying for the checkered flag.

It also could be indirectly good for NASCAR while continuing to court new manufacturers to enter with its next generation engine (which probably won’t happen until 2023). With the overall decline in the corporate sponsorship spend over the past decade, there are few entities investing as much in stock-car racing as the automakers.

At least they got good bang for their bucks at Talladega, particularly if you ascribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.


Ryan Blaney still isn’t a favorite to reach the Championship 4 this season, but Monday might be remembered as a turning point if the No. 12 driver eventually wins a Cup title.

Ryan Blaney receives congratulations from teammate Joey Logano (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

There is enormous pressure on the 25-year-old to perform at Team Penske, which has been enjoying a worldwide results bonanza well beyond NASCAR that is impressive even for this storied organization. Never mind championship teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Blaney also is competing against winners of the Indianapolis 500, Bathurst 1000 and Rolex 24. If he makes the playoffs but still goes winless this year, it gets noticed more than it would at a less successful team.

It was important that his 2019 breakthrough happened at Talladega after a string of plate failures the past few years. Blaney’s Fords led four of the past six races at Talladega but didn’t finish higher than 11th in any of them. He finished seventh in the 2018 Daytona 500 despite having the best car and leading a race-high 118 laps.

The confidence-booster of making every right move over the final two laps (including the bold decision to choose the outside for the lead on the final restart) should go a long way toward making Blaney feel his place is secure at one of racing’s greatest teams.

 

Ryan: Celebrate the Roval’s sublime silliness but with a little less circus

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CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Elliott plowed into the Turn 1 barrier with enough force to set off the airbags in a road car … and then won the race 44 laps later.

The world’s best drivers skidded on nearly every lap through two tricky speed traps on a superspeedway originally designed to push mph limits to the max.

Crew chiefs deviously plotted to game the system by determining whether it’s smarter to skip required sections of the course and instead serve stop and go penalties.

The beguiling mix of madness and mayhem reaffirmed that Sunday brought another witnessing of Peak NASCAR at its most irresistibly entertaining and, yes, silly.

The Roval is 17 turns and 2.32 miles of big, dumb fun, but it also was a brilliant and bold masterstroke by Marcus Smith (with a playoff cutoff race scheduling assist by NASCAR) to make Charlotte Motor Speedway’s fall race relevant again.

The notion of, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for saving the bland night racing on our historic 1.5-mile oval … let’s turn it into a quasi-street course that automatically becomes the toughest track in NASCAR’s premier series!” is an inspired stroke of counterintuitive genius.

It is innovative because it is so goofy in so many ways.

Train racing and Figure 8s never will make their way to Cup (we think), so the Roval will have to serve as the nearest cousin to the Saturday night short track creations that put stock car racing in its own league of necessary craziness.

NASCAR, a soap opera on wheels that has been renewed into its eighth decade, often is at its most appealing when it perilously straddles the line between circus and sport.

While other series such as IndyCar and Formula 1 toe a much harder line on competitive purity (and marshal its rules under the direction of strict stewards), NASCAR always has titled more toward seat-of-the-pants entertainment. That’s not just in its approach to determining championships but also in race management and the willingness to embrace virtually anything (Stages! Double-file restarts! All-you-can-eat Green-white-checkered finishes!) that can enhance “the show.”

They are different philosophies to approaching auto racing, and neither is wrong.

But one certainly is more haphazard.

And the Roval is the racing embodiment of NASCAR at its most gloriously shambolic.

“Hybrid” often is used to describe the abrupt connections of temporary chicanes, off-cambered corners and narrow transitions that don’t flow nearly as well as any natural terrain road course of sloped elevation changes and wide runoff areas.

This is the Dr. Frankenstein monster of a road course, but that doesn’t mean it’s a blight on racing. No less an authority than the legendary Mario Andretti proclaimed the road course as a gem with “phenomenal” sightlines as good as any in motorsports.

Another way to describe the Roval – and a term used quite often the past two years in the garages at Charlotte– is that it’s a delightful @#%!show that delivers the kind of nonstop unpredictability (the leader has wrecked on a restart two consecutive years!) and emotional bonanza that NASCAR was built upon.

Though both editions of this race have been mesmerizing, what happened afterward – whether it’s Bubba Wallace splashing an ailing Alex Bowman with Powerade while Chase Elliott channeled Russell Crowe in a victory celebration, or Jimmie Johnson and the series holding its collective breath while the 2018 playoff standings were tabulated – also measures up as just as compelling.

But there is a major caveat to all the goodness derived from chaos.

It’s possible to have too much awesome fun.

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, underscored this during a Monday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR’s The Morning Drive. Gordon said his team explored if it might be better to blow through the backstretch chicane (i.e. at the roughly 170 mph-plus speeds of the Coca-Cola 600) rather than properly driving through.

Consider how much wilder – and probably untenable – the action would have been if NASCAR hadn’t foiled this nefarious plan by clarifying that any advance of position by cutting a chicane would result in a pass-through penalty (and not just the usual stop and go for missing it).

That was good preemptive officiating by NASCAR, which also did a fine job of managing the chicanes during Sunday’s race and ensuring the many offenders were punished.

But the news wasn’t so good with caution flags. There were at least four spins (including Alex Bowman making contact with Bubba Wallace on the first lap) that somehow didn’t merit a yellow, meaning that roughly for every two cautions for spins, there was at least one spin that wasn’t a yellow.

Two of the cautions were for single-car spins in which neither car needed assistance or was damaged in a way that scattered debris – both usually the conditions for a road-course caution.

Because NASCAR doesn’t employ “local” yellows (in which conditions apply only to a section of the track), the importance of being consistent is paramount in being fair to teams. It’s akin to an umpire establishing a strike zone by the end of the first inning and sticking to it: If there’s a spin that’s a caution, all similar spins also must be yellows.

Things are way less fun amidst the confusion of guessing when the yellows will fly.

There also were multiple instances in which NASCAR struggled to get the order correct, namely a caution in which Elliott started three spots behind Kevin Harvick despite beating him out of the pits. There also were an agonizing four laps of yellow between Stages 1 and 2 because the field couldn’t be reordered for a one-lap restart (despite coming off a harmless single-car spin).

As righteously difficult as the Roval is to navigate and strategize for drivers and crew chiefs, it is proving just as hard for NASCAR to manage.

While 17 turns are a lot to monitor, the size and scope of the track aren’t a valid excuse for struggling to adjudicate the race (NASCAR does just fine with Road America’s 4.2-mile track). NASCAR is reviewing the possibility of adding spotters around the Roval to help make calls more efficiently and quickly. That’s good, because there’s much more at stake.

Complicating the balance of entertainment and integrity is that this is a playoff race. Everyone’s game – officials included – must be raised to withstand the greater scrutiny.

The circus is fun, but next year, please send in a few less clowns and a few more corner workers to help ensure consistency with calling the caution flags.

Because there assuredly will be many in this big, dumb and massively fun race that has become one of the most unlikely treats of the Cup season.


Forgotten after Sunday’s unforgettable race was that IndyCar and NASCAR seemed to take another major step toward each other with Josef Newgarden’s six hot laps around Charlotte’s road course generating lots of buzz and positive chatter.

IndyCar doesn’t resume until March 2020, but NASCAR already should be targeting a race where it can have a star (preferably a former champion) working the paddock … or maybe even turning laps the way Newgarden did at Charlotte.

That’ll help build the momentum for the doubleheader discussion that has a lot of big names talking (“Why wouldn’t we bring those guys to race with our sport and join ours? I think it’s a great idea,” Clint Bowyer said on NASCAR America last week) but still needs to convince some major domos on both sides.

IndyCar has indicated a willingness to race on Saturday nights and allow NASCAR to have the Sunday slot – a compromise that should help engender an American motorsports extravaganza on a single weekend.

What we would like to see: Two doubleheaders. One certainly should be in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with NASCAR taking second billing on the layout for the Indy Grand Prix.

The second preferably would be at the Roval (with NASCAR in the prime slot), but that will require some schedule reworking. That might naturally happen for other reasons, though, by 2022 (or maybe even ’21)

Other tracks that have been bandied about as possibilities are Richmond Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway, both of which will play host to both series next year (Phoenix Raceway also would be an option if IndyCar worked out a return).

Another possibility? Daytona International Speedway, which once played host to IMSA and NASCAR on the same July race weekend. Using the track’s road course and oval on consecutive days could allow for both NASCAR and IndyCar to showcase themselves without worrying about the optics of speed disparities between the series on the same course.

Imagine a pair of doubleheaders at the country’s two most famous racetracks: Indianapolis and Daytona.


Another way to build IndyCar-NASCAR collaboration? Loosen the testing restrictions that both series have to make exceptions. Though Newgarden has talked openly about a ride swap (or just racing a Cup car in general), Team Penske president Tim Cindric explained that “it’s hard to get approval for these things.

“The testing schedule is so difficult, and the teams are so competitive,” Cindric said. “Everyone gets some advantage by (Newgarden) driving a Cup car or an Xfinity car or Joey (Logano) in an Indy car.

“You can maybe do one once in a while, but they’re all looking at what advantage are you gaining by doing that? There’s something to be said in all these series for drivers who aren’t in that series being able to run and try things. Maybe more openness to that would help some situations. It’s very difficult from where I sit aside from the financial perspective to do something productive and give them a chance where it’s not a boondoggle but a real chance to experience it.”

Beyond being a great experience, lest we forget the NASCAR-Formula 1 ride swaps of Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya at Indy in 2003 and Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International in 2011 were terrific exposure opportunities, too, and they helped attract nontraditional media.


NASCAR should sit down with Bubba Wallace for splashing Powerade in Alex Bowman’s face after Sunday’s race. It was a regrettable move (even if it instantly became stock footage for all future promotional feud reels), particularly with innocent bystanders also being sprayed (a sticky situation for Pepsi endorser Jeff Gordon to be unwillingly doused with a chief rival’s product).

But when executive vice president Steve O’Donnell announced he would be talking to Wallace … shouldn’t he have added that NASCAR officials also will be sitting down Bowman, who wrecked Wallace without compunction solely for having the temerity to wave his middle finger at him (because Wallace had crashed Bowman on the first lap)?

Yes, Bowman was sitting on the ground in a semi-prone position that left him mostly defenseless. But he wasn’t undergoing any medical treatment beyond having water poured on his head, and Wallace took no action that could have hurt Bowman.

The harm that Bowman potentially could have done to Wallace at speed during the race was far greater. Even in a low-speed corner, hooking a car in the right rear to send it driver’s side into a wall and then boasting about it with impunity afterward sends a message that’s about as positive as confronting a competitor in distress postrace.


Speaking of discussions involving Bowman and Wallace, we may never learn what was briefly said between the two after the Roval.

But upon a slo-mo, Zapruder-esque review (and help from some lip-readers) of multiple camera angles of the video above (watch at the 1:11 and 1:36 marks), it would seem to be a less than friendly greeting from Bowman punctuated by a vulgarity.

That’s not meant to excuse Wallace’s reaction, but the context probably should be considered in any full analysis (by NASCAR, media, fans, etc.) about what happened.


In the new Dale Jr. Download podcast, the eponymous host makes another plea to repave Bristol Motor Speedway with asphalt (as it was in its pre-concrete days).

Marcus Smith, chairman of the company that owns Bristol and the guest on the podcast, tries to placate Earnhardt by saying, “Maybe we’ll have a dirt race at Bristol one day.

“Wow!” Dale Jr. says. “Dirt race at Bristol!”

“I’m going to call it the Dale Jr. Invitational,” Smith replies.

That’s pretty funny stuff … though are we sure Smith is kidding about his plans for a track that once played host to a World of Outlaws race?

Kyle Busch provides details on why he parked early at the Roval

Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch parked his No. 18 Toyota during a red flag on Lap 100 Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, ending a dismal race for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

Busch clarified on Twitter postrace that his car had a broken sway bar that impacted its handling, which was why he left the race and took the 37th-place finish (10 laps down). “Better to call it a day” and move on to Dover, Busch wrote.

According to a team report, Busch radioed his team with nearly 50 laps remaining (shortly after the end of Stage 2) that something was amiss with the left rear of his Camry. On a Lap 65 restart, he was forced off course and suffered a flat tire after contact with the barrier that also apparently broke the sway bar.

He was penalized for driving through too many stalls, resulting in a pass-through penalty in the pits that dropped him a lap down. He lost another lap for repairs during a Lap 88 caution before pulling into the garage after a four-car pileup on Lap 100 that resulted in an 8-minute red flag (and many drivers receiving water breaks under 90-degree temperatures).

Busch advanced from the first round after finishes of 19th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (where he was embroiled in postrace controversy), second at Richmond Raceway and 37th at The Roval.

“It just wasn’t our weekend,” he said in a postrace release. “I don’t really know why we had the trouble we’ve had. It’s not the way you want to run in the playoffs. We are fortunate that we had such a strong regular season and that we have the playoff points that we have. We just can’t keep relying on that as we go through the playoffs.”

Chase Elliott explains celebration: ‘Got to redeem myself in this corner’

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CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Elliott truly enjoyed burying his No. 9 Chevrolet in the Turn 1 tire barrier … the second time.

After seemingly throwing away his shot to win Sunday’s Roval race at Charlotte Motor Speedway by nosing head first into the wall while leading on a Lap 65 restart, Elliott stormed back from 31st to win.

As he began his burnout celebration on the frontstretch, inspiration struck to revisit the scene of his self-induced crime.

“Man, I’ve got to redeem myself in this corner,” Elliott said with a laugh on the NBCSN postrace show. “Motor’s done, rear tires are done. But I felt like it was worth it to get redemption right there. I couldn’t pass it up.”

Elliott drove his No. 9 Chevrolet back to the same spot and sent plumes of white smoke skyward to the delight of the crowd.

“Yeah, I was pretty excited about that one,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “I’m typically not very quick‑witted, but I was really proud of that. I was pretty fired up.

“Definitely it should have never been special in the first place, but since I went out of my way to make it special today, I felt like I had to go back and see it one more time.

Elliott said he simply misjudged the corner, driving about five car lengths too deep before hitting the brakes. Though the impact was significant, he managed to avoid damaging the fragile areas around the splitter (“the saving grace of the whole thing”) and radiator.

“I’m not sure you can do something more stupid than what I did leading that race,” he said. “That was just dumb. Got so lucky that it wasn’t tore up bad.

“I don’t know how I didn’t kill it, to be honest with you. Our guys did a really nice job of fixing it. A lot of times when you have damage like that, you can make it worse and break fenders and do things that you don’t need to do.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick missed seeing his driver’s celebration but “thought it was really neat” when told about it later. “I think Chase, he doesn’t give himself enough credit,” Hendrick said. “He told me after the race he kind of made a big mistake.  Man, you drove the wheels off the car and you won, you came back.  I think that’s the toughest corner in it.  But I think that was cool that he did that (celebration).”